Professionalism/Margaret Goodearl, Ruth Ibarra, and Hughes Microelectronics


Between 1985 and 1987, Hughes Aircraft Company's Microelectronic Circuit Division division in Newport Beach, California made computer chips called hybrid chips.[1] In contrast to traditional integrated circuits where circuits are itched on the same semiconductor material, hybrid chips contain different semiconductor devices in a single package. Hughes sold as many as 100,000 hybrids per year, at prices ranging from $300 to $5,000 each. [1] They were used in a number of military systems, such as aircraft radar units and missile guidance systems. Over 73 different Department of Defense programs were involved, including the F-14, F-15, F-16, and F-18 aircraft, the Maverick, Phoenix and AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to Air Missile) missiles, DIVADS, and INTELSAT. [1]

By contract, the chips had to pass a number of quality assurance tests specified by the government. The chips were used in advanced weapons systems that traveled at high altitudes at supersonic speeds. They were expected to survive dramatic ranges of temperature, moisture, and mechanical shock for long periods of time. They were hermetically sealed in metal or ceramic packages to protect them from environmental stresses and isolated in an inert atmosphere of helium and nitrogen. [2] Typical tests involved subjecting the chips to temperature cycling, constant acceleration, and shock. Hughes' record shows that approximately 10 percent of the chips failed one or more tests. [2] Hughes was found to “skip required environmental tests on certain hybrids for which there were delivery pressures or priorities," “fraudulently test or conduct rework on hybrids contrary to contractual provisions” and “falsify essential documents that required all tests and procedures." [1]

Ruth Ibbara (later Aldred) worked for Hughes as a supervisor for hybrid quality assurance. Maragared Goodearl was a supervisor for processing the seals of the chips in the environmental testing area of the Company's Newport Beach facility. Both Ibbara and Goodearl noticed that Hughes was not fulfilling its end of the contract and were later involved in a whistle-blowing case against the company. [1] Donald LaRue, a floor manager for Hughes, seemed to have directed many instances of the fraud. [1]

Fraud and Cover Up IncidentsEdit

Lisa LightnerEdit

Lisa Lightner conducted leak tests in the environmental testing group. In August of 1986, she tested a chip and found it to leak. Donald LaRue ordered her to pass the chip, despite its failure. The delivery of this order caused Lightner to cry and report this to Margaret Goodearl. Goodearl then spoke with Ruth Ibarra in Quality Assurance. They decided to report the incident to upper management through a meeting with Richard Himmel, manager of the Microelectronics Circuit Production Line. He assured them that they would not be fired, failing chips should not be passed, and that Goodearl should try to work with LaRue. After this meeting, Goodearl received a phone call from Frank Saia, her and LaRue's direct manager. He ordered her to reveal "who the squealer was" or she would be fired that day[3].

Shirley ReddickEdit

Shirley Reddick hermetically sealed the metal or ceramic packages that the chips were placed in. In early October of 1986, Donald LaRue ordered her to reseal chips without proper documentation. Ibarra noticed the resealing without proper stamping and notified Goodearl. Goodearl was informed by LaRue that the resealing did not concern her. After LaRue and Goodearl's conversation, Jim Temple, assistant manager to Frank Saia, called Goodearl. He told her: "You are not part of the team ... Shape up and be part of the team if you want your job" [2]. Goodearl then met with the personnel department about this phone call and the one she received after the Lightner Incident. She specifically inquired about making a harassment complaint due to the firing threats. However, the personnel department also reported to Frank Saia and he scheduled a meeting with Goodearl. During this meeting, he threw his glasses and said: "If you ever do anything like that again, I will fire your ass right out of here" [2]. Two weeks later, LaRue was moved to the Production Control department and Goodearl was given a new boss, B.J. Rhodes.

Rachel JaneschEdit

Rachel Janesch conducted leak tests in the environmental testing group. In his new role, LaRue moved chips into and out of the environmental testing area. In late October of 1986, he ordered Janesch to pass a leaky chip, similarly to the Lightner Incident. Janesch reported this to Goodearl. Unlike in the Lightner Incident, the chip was retested after Goodearl became involved. It failed the test and was sent back to the production line.

Position Locating Reporting System (PLRS)Edit

In November of 1986, Goodearl and Ibarra found a box of PLRS that had blank testing paperwork attached. This box had been marked as passing, presumably by LaRue. Goodearl reported this to management and was once more told that she was not a part of the team or trusted by LaRue.

Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM)Edit

In December of 1986, Goodearl and Ibarra found two chips that had failed the leak test. These chips should have been destroyed or sent back to the production line, indicating that someone intended to later change them to passing[4]. Goodearl and Ibarra photocopied the chips and the paperwork marking them as failed. They returned the chips to where they found them. The chips were later changed to passing in the company logs and shipped to the next stage in the production process. The Office of the Inspector General notified the Department of Defense who intercepted and tested them, finding them to fail.

The Whistle-blowersEdit

Margaret GoodearlEdit

Goodearl served as a supervisor in the seal processing are from 1986-1989. She reported the Lightner, Reddick, and Janesch incidents to upper management. Filed a harassment report after repeatedly being threatened with firing and accusations of not being a team player. She was fired in 1989 and unable to find later work in the defense industry. Due to this she was forced to file for bankruptcy with her husband. She now works as a housekeeper in Washington, D.C.[5]

Ruth IbarraEdit

Ibarra served as a supervisor of hybrid quality assurance from 1984-1988. In 1988 she left Hughes after being transferred to a powerless position with no responsibility. Until 1991 she lived on welfare with her husband due to an inability to find work. She now lives and works in San Diego.[5]

Notification of GovernmentEdit

Goodearl and Ibarra first notified the Office of the Inspector General through the Fraud Hotline after the PLRS incident. Following repeated meetings they agreed to gather more evidence for a fraud investigation.

Legal ProceedingsEdit

Civil TrialEdit

After being laid off by Hughes in 1989, Margaret Goodearl filed a Wrongful Discharge suit. In 1990, she dropped the suit in favor of a "qui tam" lawsuit with Ruth Ibbarra against Hughes under the False Claims Act (FCA), which allows private citizens to bring civil suits on behalf of the government against individuals or companies who have defrauded the federal government. [1][2] Under the law, whistle-blowers or "relators" may be awarded between 15 to 25 percent of the funds recovered from the case. [1][2] The two whistle-blowers claimed that Hughes was defrauding the federal government in its testing of the microchips. Specifically, the civil suit charged Hughes with "knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, false or fraudulent claims against the United states, or knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement to get a false or fraudulent claim allowed or paid by the Government, and for conspiring to defraud the Government by getting a false or fraudulent claim allowed or paid, in violation of the False Claims Act." [2]

Under provisions of the FCA, the government joined the suit in December of 1992. The case was settled in September of 1996 after Hughes was found guilty in the criminal case brought against them. Hughes agreed to pay $3,159,000 to the United States government, $891,000 to the whistle-blowers, and $450,000 to cover the whistle-blowers' attorneys' fees and expenses. [1][2][5]

Criminal TrialEdit

In 1991, the Department of Defense charged Hughes in criminal court with willfully conspiring to defraud the government by "knowingly and deliberately producing hybrids that had not been tested in the manner specified by contract and the pertinent military specifications." Hughes was also charged with making "false statements, writing and representations on documents in a matter withing the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense." The indictment in the criminal trial named two defendants, Hughes Aircraft and Donald Anthony LaRue. [1]

The civil trial was put on hold while the criminal case was being settled. The criminal trail lasted about a month. On June of 1992, Hughes was found guilty of conspiring to defraud the government. Donald LaRue was found no guilty, as the jury believed he himself had been pressured by Hughes' higher-level management. [1][2] In October of 1992, Hughes Aircract was fined $3.5 million by a U.S. District Judge. Hughes fought the conviction and fine as far as the Supreme Court, but the appeal was denied. [1] Because the results of the criminal trial could be used as evidence in related civil trials, the conviction helped the whistle-blowers reach a settlement with Hughes in the civil case. [2]

Ethical ConclusionsEdit

A professional person is able to look at a situation objectively, recognize what is going on, and understand how it affects everybody involved. Both Margaret Goodeal and Ruth Ibarra were able to look at the bigger picture and make the ethically correct decision, even if it meant taking harassment and bullying from other employees.

This case started with ethical dissent. Ethical dissent ranges from simple attempts at persuasion with superiors to the principled decision to quit your job and blow the whistle on what you believe to be dangerous behavior in your organization. It is making a decision based on ethics that might conflict with another's opinion. Ethical dissent can lead to whistleblowing but but only if the disagreement can't be resolved.

The IEEE has adopted a useful set of guidelines to help engineers who find themselves in conflicts with management over matters with ethical implications.[6] They are summarized as follows:

1. Establish a clear technical foundation One should check out the alleged facts and technical arguments as thoroughly as possible. If feasible, get the advice of colleagues that you respect. Carefully consider counter-arguments made by others.

2. Keep your arguments on a high professional plane, as impersonal and objective as possible, avoiding extraneous issues and emotional outbursts. Keep calm and avoid impugning the motives of an opponent. Try to structure the situation so that accepting your position will involve as little embarrassment as possible to those being asked to change a decision.

3. Try to catch problems early, and keep the argument at the lowest managerial level possible.

4. Before going out on a limb, make sure the issue is sufficiently important.

5. Use organizational dispute resolution mechanisms. Good organizations have procedures, not always formal, for resolving disputes. After having exhausted informal efforts to persuade your manager, then you must consider using these mechanisms.

6. Keep records and collect paper.

7. Resigning It is very unlikely that you would be able to remain with the organization, unless your job is governmental in nature, protected by civil service regulations or the like.

8. Anonymity Some situations may require anonymity in that publicly calling attention to a problem may cause personal repercussions beyond what someone is willing to accept.

9. Outside Resources Going to an outside organization for help may be used if internal conflict resolution measures fail. Outside sources of help include a cognizant regulatory or law enforcement agency, Members of Congress (from one's own district or state, or the head of a relevant committee), state or local government officials or legislators, or public interest organizations.

The following statement made on the page of guidelines makes a good conclusion about the tough decision of following through with whistleblowing. "No tactics or strategies can guarantee a happy outcome. It takes courage and dedication to risk one's job, or even career, on ethical grounds. Many who have done so have suffered severe consequences, at least in the short run. It is not uncommon for the engineer's position to prevail, while the engineer is fired. Sometimes, the immediate battle is lost, but the result of the battle is that fewer such bad decisions are made in the future. Finally, one should also consider the personal consequences of yielding on a matter of principle when the result may be severe harm to others. This can cause a lifelong loss of self esteem."[6]


Professional employees are especially likely to feel the conflicting demands of being loyal to the employing organization and to colleagues while also serving the public interest. After all, a professional has attained mastery of a body of knowledge and adhere to values that stress service to society. Such values are normally embodied in a code of ethics or oath that new professionals may take. At the same time, professionals tend to be reluctant to publicly charge one another with incompetence or wrongdoing. This reluctance stems from professional socialization processes that stress loyalty to colleagues, generate empathy toward those who commit errors, and caution against any actions that might damage the public image and prestige of the profession. At the same time, such practical concerns as the desire to maintain cordial interpersonal relations and fear of being sued may also ensure that many errors remain shared secrets among co-workers.


Engineers have been well represented among the celebrated whistleblowers of the past two decades. There is every reason to believe that engineers are going to continue to be asked to make hard decisions when organizational actions and the public interest do not coincide. The very nature of their work places engineers at the center of the development and evaluation of new technologies. Such activity can put engineers in the situation of feeling that more work is required to produce a sound and safe product while management is pushing hard to "get it out the door." Even when existing technologies are simply being adapted or applied, disagreements over risk assessment can arise. The public is increasingly concerned over possible risks posed by products or technologies, and as a result, engineers can expect to practice in an environment that is demanding ever higher standards of safety.


  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l Bowyer, K. W. (n.d.). Goodearl and Aldred versus Hughes aircraft: a whistle-blowing case study.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j
  5. a b c
  6. a b